Wealth, Privilege & Leadership

Last month, Sam Walker, writing in The Wall Street Journal, took on the issue of privilege in the context of Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony on Capitol Hill. I am not going to offer my opinions here about Kavanaugh and the hearings; Walker did not either.

What Walker did address is the issue of how growing up in an affluent and “rarefied upbringing” might affect perceptions of leaders and how well they actually lead, especially when leading diverse teams.

Walker makes an interesting point about the unfair advantages children in wealthy families get with respect to unpaid internships. “While nobody is threatening to install a “gold ceiling” for rich kids, there is a campaign afoot to dismantle some of the infrastructure that works to their benefit. Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation has become a leading advocate for putting an end to unpaid internships—which, he argues, give affluent young people an unfair career-building advantage over those who can’t afford to work for free. “Hiring students who are already the beneficiaries of compounded privilege undermines the notion of meritocracy,” he says.”

I was struck by his point that unpaid internships give significant advantage to those who have wealth (and can afford to take on opportunities for unpaid work), and disadvantages those who must be paid to support their career-building endeavors. Sure, this is an advantage, but does it have the objective effect of producing poor leaders?

He quotes a McKinsey & Co. report which found that “companies with executive teams that ranked in the top quartile for gender diversity were 21% more likely to achieve above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile—and that firms with greater ethnic and cultural diversity were 33% more likely to outperform.” The McKinsey report states that while social justice is typically the motivation to strive for diversity, there is evidence for a business case.

OK, so there is some evidence that diversity is linked to better business performance. But what about wealth/privilege and leadership?

Walker continues, “One prominent scientific theory is that privilege often reduces a person’s capacity for empathy and compassion. Recent experiments performed at Arizona State University found that individuals with higher socioeconomic status were, on average, less attuned to other people. Other studies have even linked privilege to higher rates of narcissism, self-entitlement and unethical behavior.”

I’ve seen children grow up in wealthy families to be entitled and spoiled and still put by the family into positions of leadership; they call me when this goes awry as it usually does. I have also seen children in these situations grow up with a sense of responsibility around the impact the family wealth and their own choices make on the world around them. They are thoughtful, humble, generous and down-to-earth.

In the latter case parents live according to deep values and wealth is secondary and is used to serve the values. I love when these parents call me before they even have kids or during the first year or two for guidance about the opportunities and pitfalls about raising kids in this context. Their kids tend to be excellent leaders in the family enterprise or in other endeavors when they choose their own path.

Ultimately, Walker concludes “the superior leaders I’ve studied had only one interpersonal quality in common. Whatever bubbles they were born in, they all felt comfortable operating outside of them.” This is key to me for enterprising families raising future leaders: raising humans who can understand and connect with people who are different. With this enlightened stance, great leaders can come from anywhere.

Posted in Family Business Consulting, Family Wealth Consulting, Wealth Psychology Consulting | Tagged , , , , , , | Posted on by Jeff Savlov

Sharp Knives & Fire

My friend and colleague Pierre duPont, Partner at HPM Partners in New York City, recently wrote a great piece entitled, “Raising Children Into Wealth – Hungry, Productive and Compassionate.” I hope you will read it.

One of his points really resonated with me and brought to mind the work I do coaching parents with significant wealth and working with them and their kids together:

“…show your children that life is not about the things in it but about the people in it and the individual moments lived and shared. Money can sometimes enhance those, but it cannot buy them.”

Simply put: People and Experiences matter.

One of the most meaningful experiences for families working to demonstrate the wonderful aspects of life having little to do with material possessions and everything to do with simplicity and who you are with is camping. Not “glamping” but simple, old-fashioned tent camping including gathering wood, cooking over a fire and preferably in the middle of nowhere (beyond cell towers and Wi-Fi).

While camping, kids are exposed to sights, sounds and animals they don’t often encounter or to which they simply do not pay much attention. The best night sky I’ve ever seen was at a campground in northwest New Jersey. Really. It was a perfectly clear night and the Milky Way was more visible than I’ve ever seen it – breathtaking. One need not always venture far.

The natural world, the basics. And: sharp knives and fire.

Sharp knives (basic folding pocket knives) can be purchased for $10-$15. When a child is old enough to understand knife safety (5-10 years depending on maturity and dexterity), the power of giving them this responsibility is incredible. I’ve practiced this myself and am happy to say (knock on wood) my sons never cut themselves.

They had hours of fun carving sticks. And I’m convinced it boosted their confidence when my wife and I would explain the potential danger of the knives AND let them have their own when we went camping. Giving children challenges – with managed risk – is important for all kids to learn and grow. For affluent families in particular, where there are so many opportunities to make life easier and more risk-free, these types of experiences are essential to developing responsible, confident and self-motivated stewards.

Fire has similar power. Dangerous if not managed carefully, yet soothing and beautiful with its warmth and practical value for cooking. Even 2-year-olds can gather small sticks used to start the fire even if not old enough to safely help manage the fire itself. Older children can also collect small kindling, medium-sized sticks and eventually larger logs on the forest floor. Again, based on age, maturity and dexterity, children can be taught to safely handle matches, start the initial fire with kindling and grow it to a roaring blaze. There is no better place to share family stories.

Entrusting children with sharp knives and fire while camping, in safe and responsible ways, is an incredible opportunity for any child of any socioeconomic background. And there is a special opportunity for wealthy families whose financial situation risks offering too robust a safety net; so that there is not ample risk and danger of the kind that stimulates growth, independence and a sense of confidence about their ability to make their own mark on the world.

Posted in Family Business Consulting, Family Wealth Consulting, Wealth Psychology Consulting | Tagged , , , , , , | Posted on by Jeff Savlov

The Conversation

I recently received a referral from an attorney I’ve known for years. The referral was for a married couple who were both children of immigrants who valued education and had earned PhD degrees in science. They started a company that became wildly successful in terms of financial success and respect from colleagues and investors. The couple sold it for a large sum and when they decided to start another company, investors swooned and supplied cash.

The couple had been having regular quarterly meetings with their attorney, accountant and wealth manager. They made good progress in many areas except the issue of “The Conversation.” This was their reference to talking to the kids about the wealth the family had created – the 800-pound gorilla in the room that went unmentioned.

Their children were a boy and a girl, freshman and junior in high school. They had gone from living in an upper-middle-class town with a nice 4-bedroom, 3-bath home on an acre with two minivans, to an affluent community in a huge home on acres of property with several garages housing high-end sports cars and sedans.

“The Conversation” had not happened because the parents could not imagine bringing up the topic of their wealth without “ruining the kids’ motivation and work ethic.” Yet, it was obvious the noticed the new home, cars and the luxury country club – and the parents knew they noticed.

When I met the couple, I validated their fears about sitting the kids down to tell them how wealthy they were. They way they described “The Conversation” was like the traditional telling of the birds and the bees – awkward, with the parental discomfort palpable. They were envisioning a quick disclosure of technical details and with little overall context to help the children make sense of it at their level. In other words, “get the basic facts out and run for the hills.”

A growing, interdisciplinary field has developed over the last 25 years with the purpose of understanding family wealth beyond technical aspects, helping families avoid common pitfalls and, more important, proactively developing families within a wealth context. I have been significantly involved in this field and in developing thinking around raising children in the context of family wealth. I’ve learned it is essential to first develop a solid family foundation based on your family’s history, including stories from parents and relatives of prior generations – the struggles and hard-won successes and gathered wisdom. Also, parents must articulate values they have found important in guiding life decisions and instill them in children by living by them (“walking-the-walk”). These are several of the key, foundation-laying practices.

I proposed to the parents a year-long family development program beginning initially with only the parents, to educate them about the dynamics of family wealth and help them think through the myriad issues (work, allowance, challenging kids when it is easy to help them, building self-esteem and resilience and more) all within the special context of family wealth.

Then the children would join us, first to discuss concepts like wants versus needs and what makes a strong family, and gradually becoming more specific to money and discussing ways money can serve a family and how it can cause harm. This would allow the kids to give their thoughts first so they feel included and not lectured to, and also give them freedom to offer from their perspective and avoid simply repeating back what parents say.

In these developmental Family Wealth and Legacy Workshops, I’ve had the youngest children say the wisest things, e.g., one 8-year-old boy insisted during a family discussion of wants and needs that friendship was a need. Parents and older siblings initially disagreed with strong explanations about how you CAN live without friends. The boy held strong, made his case, and ultimately won the family over – friends, they came to agree, are necessary to life!

I’ve recently had the honor of doing this kind of development with couples from wealthy families who are expecting their first child; this is about as proactive as you can get in the field of family wealth development. By helping these parents think through the kind of family they want to create, how their parenting will impact the result and how money can serve that vision (rather than hijack it), they are committing to a process of parenting and intentional family wealth that will serve them and future generations well.

What is the Lesson?

Enterprising Families: It is never too early to start thinking about how to develop and harness the power of healthy family culture to develop your children in positive and productive ways with character, motivation, and compassion – in the challenging context of financial wealth. Whether they have not been born yet or are in their first few years, the most powerful effects of strategic and intentional parenting are seen before age 5. However, there are effective ways to open the conversation well into adulthood – so if you missed those early opportunities, there are still plenty more.

Advisors to Enterprising Families: One of the greatest services you can offer your family clients is to educate them about intentional parenting in a wealth context. Your encouragement will help them go well beyond simply not speaking about family wealth and “hoping for the best” or doing the “birds and the bees” version – the quick dump of basic info followed by a fast exit. They trust you; point them down the road of thoughtful development.

Posted in Family Business Consulting, Family Wealth Consulting, Wealth Psychology Consulting | Tagged , , , | Posted on by Jeff Savlov

A Candy Heir UPDATE

My June 2017 blog entitled A Candy Heir, the NHL and Next-Gen Passion, was based on a NY Times article about Nello Ferrara, heir to the Ferrara Candy Company (think Red Hots and Lemonheads among others). A few weeks after I posted the blog, I got an email from Nello himself. He came across the blog and it resonated with him; he asked if I’d like to call him and chat.

We had a great conversation about family business and hockey (two serious interests of mine) and life in general. I knew in April 2018 I’d be attending the Psychodynamics of Family Business (PDFB) Annual Retreat and I wanted to present but was not sure what I’d propose at that point. I suggested to Nello that I might interview him as a breakout session. He agreed and we set another call to really dig into his family business story in depth.

The story was amazing. The business started when Nello’s great-grandfather, Salvatore, opened a small bakery three generations earlier (1908) and hired family members along the way. They put small candies on some of the cakes and pastries as a garnish. It turned out the garnish candies became super popular and the family saw the opportunity and jumped on it; they began focusing on the candies themselves and over time became an American candy-making powerhouse.

Of course, as with any family business – especially when there is tremendous financial success – relationships can become strained and challenges between family members can take their toll. As wealth is created and grows, family members don’t always agree on who should take on leadership roles, how the wealth should be distributed, how ownership is transferred and to whom, and whether or not to sell the company and cash out. Even family members not involved directly in the business are affected by estate plans and access to money (or money withheld).

When Nello presented to PDFB, he did so with an openness and rawness that took us all by surprise. He laid it all out – good and bad – with the hope of helping all the advisors to families in the room learn something that would help them serve their family business clients a bit better. He requested, and the group of 18 consultants committed to, complete confidentiality so that he could be free to share the whole saga; this blog you’re reading was approved by Nello. The attendees were riveted.

There were several painful elements to the history of Ferrara Candy Company and Nello’s experience. Some of the lessons resonate with things I’ve been preaching for years:

  • When families achieve financial/business success attention must be paid to living by core family values.
  • The interplay of family and business must be managed as a project of its own.
  • Raising children in the context of significant wealth has both opportunities and pitfalls. If serious attention is not paid to raising children in ways that encourage character, motivation and perseverance, the wealth can be their downfall.

My thanks to Nello! All the PDFB members got a tremendous amount out of learning his story and I hope that sharing it furthered his journey as well.

Posted in Family Business Consulting, Family Wealth Consulting, Wealth Psychology Consulting | Tagged , , , , | Posted on by Jeff Savlov

Black Males, Wealth Depreciation & Racism

I was born in 1966 to a mom who would have been a hippie or academic if she did not get married at 18 and start having kids so early.  My mom was passionate about her fight against oppression in all forms and impressed upon my sisters and me the importance of social equity for all regardless of race. The institution of slavery and its antithesis embodied in the Civil Rights movement, made it easy for a young kid like me to see the difference between social unfairness and social fairness. The distinction was made clearer when my mom read two books with me were about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jackie Robinson. I could not understand why people could be so awful to other people. Separate bathrooms and water fountains because of skin color? Even as a kid, this seemed crazy, outrageous. Why would someone hate someone else simply because of their skin color? Baseball fans yelling the “n-word” at Jackie Robinson, the first Black player in the big leagues, disturbed me then and still does now.

A recent NY Times article based on research at Stanford, Harvard, and Census Bureau data, describes the effects of racism on Black boys; even those who grow up in wealthy families are more likely to end up poor than to remain at the level of wealth in which they were raised. The same is not true for Black girls. “Even when children grow up next to each other with parents who earn similar incomes, black [sic] boys fare worse than white boys in 99 percent of America…Black men raised in the top 1 percent — by millionaires — were as likely to be incarcerated as white men raised in households earning about $36,000.”

This article and other research referred to in it finds that it is not class that explains this dynamic (as frequently thought to be the case) but pervasive, structural racism and its particularly strong effects on Black males.  The Times article further points out that “boys, across races, are more sensitive than girls to disadvantages like growing up in poverty or facing discrimination. While black [sic] women also face negative effects of racism, black [sic] men often experience racial discrimination differently. As early as preschool, they are more likely to be disciplined in school. They are pulled over or detained and searched by police officers more often.”

The article is well worth a read. One area of my consulting work with wealthy families focuses on educating and coaching parents about raising children in a wealth context. Unfortunately, however, I am not coming across Black families of wealth in my practice and even within the related organizations to which I belong, there are rarely Black professionals. This does not mean they do not exist, but it has not been my experience to meet them despite my work across the country.

As a result, I see a great opportunity and consequential social benefit in developing communities for Black families of wealth, and Black professionals that are focused on facilitating the perpetuation of their success (in financial and other realms) and connecting these families and professionals to opportunities for mentorship and support for impoverished Black communities. If you know of organizations along these lines – please get in touch with me and share what you know. If you’d like to make an impact on this issue, let’s put our heads together.

I did Google around looking for organizations for “Black family wealth” and “Black wealth advisors”. What tended to come up were articles about the drastic nature of wealth disparity and how difficult and challenging it is to be a Black professional.


Posted in Family Business Consulting, Family Wealth Consulting, Wealth Psychology Consulting | Tagged , , , , | Posted on by Jeff Savlov

Parenting as Governance

Governance can be intimidating to business families and legacy wealth families who may not have operating businesses any longer but share and manage complex assets. This is especially true if they have not educated themselves about good governance and committed themselves to it. Governance is crucial for achieving both long term business/financial success and family harmony.

Simply put, governance is coming together and getting clear about how decisions will be made, who will be involved with making decisions and in the business of the family generally, how information will be shared and overall setting and managing of expectations. I’m referring specifically to governance that relates to the interplay of family and shared assets rather than of a business alone.

In my view, parenting – and in particular parenting that takes into account the context of a family’s business and financial success – is the earliest and most powerful foundation of good governance. When it is missing, the consequences are glaring.

Recently I worked with an immigrant who came to the U.S. as a young child, experienced harsh poverty and worked incredibly hard to create a business empire. He wanted to make life easier for his son and daughter: he asked very little of them, bought them everything they wanted and more, took them into the business and paid them much more than market value, (they never would have earned positions like these on their own) and he did little to train them. His heart was in the right place, but he developed entitled children with minimal skills. He did much the same with his grandkids by buying them expensive cars as soon as they got their licenses and put them all through private K-12 and college and gave them no-show jobs with his companies. His children were making bad deals and losing the company millions, and the grandkids were floundering, unemployed and living off their no-show job income.

The founder was in tears. I helped him to see that while he acted out of love, he had made life too easy for the rising generations. HE had a hunger based in surviving while they had wanted for nothing and little was expected of them.

Some may see it as a leap to connect parenting a young child to family governance.  But in my experience, I frequently see tough situations in the world of enterprising families that could have been avoided with more enlightened and thoughtful parenting beginning at the earliest years.

It is necessary that any child, regardless of family wealth or poverty, be held to high expectations, to work for what they get, to contribute to the family/household for no money (at least some of the time), to endure and grow from frustration and failure, to earn money and pay for a least some of the things they want.

I also see wonderful, close families who pull together, pitch in, and work very hard. They earn their way, respect all the employees who helped the family create their success and give back to their communities and the world with a sense of gratitude and humility. In these families, parents were thoughtful about most or all of the essential developmental tasks I describe above from the earliest years of childhood.

The distinction between the child of wealth and those of modest means or even poverty is that the former context has the potential to take the struggle, frustration and hardship out of life. And these are exactly the things necessary to get “governance” on the right track.

Posted in Family Business Consulting, Family Wealth Consulting, Wealth Psychology Consulting | Tagged , , , , | Posted on by Jeff Savlov